Ichneumon (Gr. to track), a viverrine carnivorous animal, of the genus herpestes (Illiger). The cheek teeth are 6/6-6/6; the body is long and the legs short; head small and pointed; ears short and rounded; feet five-toed, with sharp semi-retractile claws; a large anal pouch, in which the vent opens. Of the several species described, the best known is the ichneumon of Egypt (H. ichneumon, Linn.), known also as Pharaoh's rat. It is a little larger than a cat, with a gait more like a marten, and the long tail ending in a divergent tuft; the muzzle and paws are black, and the fur of the body has each hair alternately ringed with brown and dirty yellow. It is an inhabitant of N. E. Africa, especially Egypt. It was adored by the ancient Egyptians for its antipathy to the crocodile, whose eggs it destroys in great numbers; they saw in it the representative of a benign power engaged in the destruction of one of their most troublesome enemies. Its natural food consists of rats, reptiles, birds, and eggs, but it has no special antipathy to the crocodile. It is itself destroyed by foxes and jackals.
The ichneumon is frequently domesticated in Egypt, where it is used like the cat in ridding houses of rats and smaller pests; it forms attachments to persons and places, and recognizes with signs of pleasure the caresses of its master. The mongous of India (H. mungos, Linn.) is a little smaller than the ichneumon, paler and more grayish, and with a pointed tail; it has a singular antipathy to serpents, which it destroys whenever it can, not hesitating to attack even the deadly cobra de capello; against the bite of the latter it is said to find an antidote in the ophiorrhiza mungos, a root which is considered in Ceylon as a specific against the cobra's bite in man. It is as mischievous, and in the same way, as the polecat and weasels. The garangan of Java (H. Jamnicus, Geoffr.) is chestnut brown, with yellowish white spots; its habits are the same as in the other species, and it is expert in burrowing; it is easily domesticated, and is used for destroying rats.
Egyptian Ichneumon (Herpestes ichneumon).